When I was in my first job as a marketing director in a retail financial services firm, we did a brand study asking clients who we were. I’ll never forget—nearly 20 percent of the comments said something along the lines of “Navy blue,” or “You are the blue bank.” When asked what they felt about our personality, there was dead silence, or worse, answers like “You scare me.” Scaring clients is not a good idea (duh).

Creativity in marketing of retail financial services has improved from those days of navy blue logos, compasses, ships, Grecian columns and other “traditional” visuals. But what about our personality?

When you have a brand personality, it creates an emotional connection between you and the client or customer, which drives loyalty. For instance, generally, Mercedes as a persona is conservative and successful, while Subaru is liberal and rugged. In the coffee world, most people view Starbucks as hip and relaxed, while Dunkin’ Donuts is hard-working and busy. People like these brands and identify with them.

Creating an emotional brand in a rational industry

Only a few financial firms have successfully created a brand personality, and these are generally large, diverse firms. Take for example, GEICO, a company viewed as a bargain hunter or Prudential, which is commonly perceived as an all-knowing entity. Many firms have no personality, yet retail financial services marketing is where a humanized brand can make a big difference.

I believe that helping people with their money is an emotional industry trapped in a rational marketing category. When dealing with retail clients, consider this:

  • Most people find money an intimidating and uncomfortable topic.
  • Most financial firms use language people do not understand.
  • Most meetings with financial advisers are perceived to be boring, confusing or both.

The majority of retail investors do not look forward to working with financial firms. But what if your brand could help people feel good about money? What if it was fun, engaging and interactive to do business with you? What if you were described as caring, likeable and trustworthy? Wow.

As marketers—especially financial services marketers—when you consider your brand strategy, ask yourself, “Who am I, who are my clients, and how do I want them to feel?” Then make sure that your personality is threaded through everything you say and do. Use some emotion, show your personality and just be real.